FORCE11: Observations about Altmetrics and Data Story Telling

by Noella Natalino, Product and Content Manager, Plum Analytics


This week I attended the FORCE11 Conference in my hometown of Portland, OR. Since then, I have been thinking about personal/professional evolution and story-telling, inspired by Cesar Hidalgo’s talk, “From Bits to Narratives: The Rapid Evolution of Data Visualization Engines” and other altmetrics talks.

Cesar shared his own evolution of first building a bunch of awesome charts (OEC) as a PhD student in Chile, then building a tool that makes awesome charts (Pantheon/Immersion) at the MIT Media Lab, and now building a tool that makes tools that make awesome charts (MIT-DIVE). He also stressed that data professionals are called to help tell stories, not just organize data into beautiful visualizations. Pantheon brings to life our cultural history, creating charts and rankings based on biographies of globally famous people. Immersion lets you map who you have been emailing with, and how they are connected to each other. And the final step in the DIVE tool is aptly called Story Composer. Hidalgo and the MIT Media Lab’s Macro-Connections research group are breathing life into data.

The goal of altmetrics, in my view, is to do the same thing, to help tell living and diverse stories of research impact. Instead of one voice (citation counts) telling the story, multiple metrics and indicators can help us tell a more complete story – what research is being read? shared? discussed? and yes, cited. So, it was lovely to hear from three different professionals, Holly Bik (Center for Genomics & Systems Biology at New York University), Heather Coates (IUPUI University Library), and Stefanie Haustein (University of Montreal), with their own use and theories of how altmetrics can help research professionals.

  • Holly Bik – Using Altmetrics to Track Open Science Activities – Since altmetrics can represent the impact of open source software and other non-traditional research products, she is using Github code forks, page views and other website analytics to track engagement with the Phinch software project.
  • Heather Coates – Demonstrating impact as a practitioner-researcher – How altmetrics can be used in the tenure and promotion process is a sensitive topic, and data professionals like Coates can help ensure they are used in an ethical way by leading the conversation.
  • Stefanie Haustein – Exploring the meaning of altmetrics – Altmetrics themselves represent different levels of engagement and shouldn’t be assessed in a homogenous way. By differentiating between the engagement she has named access, appraise and apply, she is hoping that altmetrics can show which research is having societal impact, scholarly impact, or is just creating a lot of buzz.

In my role as Product and Content manager I work directly with universities daily exploring many of the issues that were discussed at this conference. But, it was a joy and valuable learning experience for me to attend FORCE11 and hear so many people talking about the future of  altmetrics and scholarly communication in such a concentrated way.